Writing is a muscle


Writing about a writing challenge, based on a book about writing. My post already feels as awkward as that reads. 

Awkward because I am, essentially, paraphrasing the writing of a really wonderful writer. And I'm not a confident writer, I'm a slightly terrified, what-have-I-got-myself-into writer. 

I write for a living, but writing public policy is a far cry from the creative writing I signed up for here. Combing through legislation and compiling strongly worded letters pays the bills, but it's a whole other business to writing a short story.

That's my own Pen to Paper Challenge - I've committed to writing a short story during the month of September. I've also, somewhat regrettably, committed to sharing that story with the friends and family who have been kind enough to sponsor me. I thought it might be a reward, or at the very least an incentive to hand over their hard earned dollars. I was right. Seven hundred odd dollars worth of right, so far. 

The Challenge is a good one for me, as it's a reason to make time to write. To put my fears, excuses, social engagements, chores and daydreaming aside and just bloody well write.

In preparation for the challenge (read: procrastination), I picked up Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It's a delight of a book, not to mention very useful. She has chapters like 'Getting Started', 'Shitty First Drafts', 'Character', 'Dialogue', 'False Starts' that are as simple as they sound (and I mean that in a good way).

The thing about writing, I am finding, is it is a muscle. You get good at writing by writing. Anne says to write about your lunch, write about your life, write every day and practice and persevere. Write till you find a character, or a voice, write till you create a dream that is 'vivid and continuous'. You don't have to know where the writing is going, but you have to write all the same: 'all you can give us is what life is about from your point of view. You are not going to be able to give us the plans to a submarine. Life is not a submarine. There are no plans'. 

Anne is as kind as she is dry: 'almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts'. This is an enormous relief to me. First drafts and third drafts and 15th drafts might be what you need, she says, but it won't write itself. We tell that to our students at Sydney Story Factory too, we teach them about the importance of good editing and second drafts and you would think by now I'd have learnt it for myself. 

So my plan, for September, for this short story I have no concept of, is just to write. To not worry about it and to write. Day by day, page by page - bird by bird - until it looks like a story. And then I'll edit and draft and polish it till it feels like a story.

And then I'll probably sing about it from the rooftops because I'll have written a story! An actual short story! And all it took was a month of discipline, practice, imagination and, importantly, very pushy fundraising for the Sydney Story Factory.

So here's the pushy bit: to support Meg and keep her writing you can donate now on her Everyday Hero page. Thank you!